I guess first we should say what it is. Lens time is your time in front of the camera lens.
Now why is this important? You’re a singer or dancer, not a marketing agent or a salesman. You want to do your craft. How much lens time and the quality of that lens time is how they decide who they sign to entertain. You are an investment. And although they seem nice and may have you thinking they are doing this because they like you, never lose sight of the fact that it takes money to do these things and it doesn’t grow on trees. They will invest only in the good acts, the most entertaining. Lens time is how they measure you. The more they see your face and hear your voice, the more someone has invested in you.
Everyone wants to be on a winning team. If they see your face a lot, they assume someone else thinks you’re going to pay off in the end by bringing lot’s of people to see and hear you. Lot’s of people who will part with those dollars for parking, drinks, food, entry fees and the like. There is the return on their investment. So if you like to do your craft and you want to be the best, then you need to learn a few things besides the song or dance in your act. You need to learn how to act in front of the camera.
Lots of our young singers transit back and forth from stage singing, to acting. This brings about some confusion regarding treatment given the camera lens. It can be more confusing especially to the very young. Today they are told not to look at the camera and tomorrow the guy is pulling his hair out trying to get your kid to look directly at it.
This should clear things up a bit and act as a set of general guidelines for you or your youngster.
First let’s talk about acting.
When you are an actor or actress on stage, as in a play like “Oliver”, or maybe “The Little Prince”, your interaction is with the other members of the cast. Your audience does not exist.
They are looking at your pretend world through a window. You pretend they aren’t there. The same goes for the camera. It is so that those in another room can also see through their window into your pretend world. So when you look at the camera lens you return them to the reality they are seeking to escape. In short, don’t look at the lens. It is not there.
Now let’s discuss entertaining and interviewing.
When you are on stage entertaining, whether singing dancing or juggling, the camera is your audience and is more so your audience than the people sitting in the seats in front of you.
Let me explain. The people sitting in the audience will think you looked directly at them if you even glance in their direction. The camera is usually feeding screens behind you or to the sides of the stage. It may also be feeding a recorder or a broadcast system. When you are singing, the camera is your best friend. Sing to it, look affectionately at it, and smile when ever it goes with the context of your song. If it is a sad ballad then look sorrowfully at it. The camera will help you create an emotional bond with your audience. Does a hug help from across a parking lot? Of course not. The camera brings the emotion of your song up close and personal to each person viewing it. Like a hug can’t be felt accros the parking lot, a sad or other emotion translates less over distance so those people sitting in the front rows may get it but move back a few feet and you’re a bit of a blur to them. They will have no idea what color your eyes are for instance. But the viewers of the video fed by the camera can tell you. They can cry with you, laugh with you, cheer with you or be angry with you. It creates a bond. A bond that lasts long after your song and event are over. Here is a wonderful example of great lens technique.
Watch this video and think how you feel from scene to scene as each person responds. In the open, some interviewees look and speak to the person asking the questions and some answer to the lens. Which has greater impact on you, the viewer? Louis-Alexander Desire being the well mannered young man that he is looked and answered directly to the interviewer. But in doing so missed valuable lens time and missed the emotion of the moment with the audience. It takes practice and perseverance, even for a seasoned professional like Louis-Alexander Desire.
The old clip was removed. This one is good but the cameras are far off so the connection eye to lens does not exist except when singing.
Notice how each singer appears to be singing to you, personally. They all look directly at the camera. It looks like Louis-Alexander Desire is even looking directly at you and he is way in the back on the left here. But they have good technique here. Didn’t you feel that connection?
Hopefully the emotional connection lasts all the way to Amazon.com or long enough that they order your personalized CD.
Don’t be afraid to put an “add on” with your order for an autographed CD for and additional sum. Maybe make half of that sum for a charity. Many will cherish the personalized nature of the CD and be willing to pay the additional sum. It also helps in branding your talent. But that is a subject for another writing.
So the bottom line is this. Love the camera and it will love you and your bank account and it can get you more work.
Now the most important part. Interviewing!
Interviewing is soooo important. It can also be the scariest if you are not prepared. You’re not singing a rehearsed song. You have to come up with answers. This is so important I can’t express it adequately. If you interview well, then you will get more lens time than you can shake a stick at.
If you interview by answering each question with a yes or no or worse yet, shaking your head yes or no, then it really doesn’t matter how much talent you have you just went down a notch or two on the call back list.
So you need to learn to converse. That means using several words at a minimum. Ideally you want to take 30-45 seconds for your answer. With a one word answer your cameraman doesn’t have time to track to you with the camera, zoom in and focus. You have to allow enough time for him to do that and then transition back to your host. With one word answers your audience will get ill if they bounce back and forth so what you end up with is a two shot; a shot where you share the lens with your host.
They [the audience] are not there to see your host. They are there, to see and hear you! They will judge you and your sincerity, as well as your character, by your answers, the tone of your voice and most of all, by your delivery. Did your eyes connect with the lens? Did your emotion come through with your voice?
Interviewing is a little different in the way that you treat the lens. You start off looking at the person asking the question as you start your answer then turn to the camera looking back at your host only at the very end of your answer.
You should also lower your voice at the end of you answer. Going up in tone indicates you are not done speaking. These are normal speech patterns and act as signals to the producers to prepare for a switch. That may be a little tough for our British contingent as they have a tendency to go up instead. Get over it.
Here is a video that I want you to watch and listen to. Ask yourself these things.
Were his answers long enough and interesting?
How did it make you feel when he momentarily made eye contact with the lens and then looked away?
Could you see and feel the difference when they sang too the camera and when they were playing for an effect by intentionally not looking at the camera?
Should he have looked at the camera or not in the interview?
It is important that you learn to speak slowly, don’t rush it. Speak plainly and project well. Pretend there is no microphone and you want to be heard. That doesn’t mean to yell, but to speak loudly. One way to set the tone of the interview is to take the opportunity to thank your host for the invitation to appear before answering your first question. Let it go something like this:
Host Marie: Well Johnny, you have quite a voice for a little guy. How long have you been singing?
Johnny: Well, before I answer I just want to thank you for this invitation to sing it has been just wonderful, you and your staff are simply the best. [Pause for the applause to die down.] Now to answer your question, I started singing when I was very young. Mom said I would pretend that I had a microphone and would sing along with the radio. I guess I would have been four or five maybe. But I didn’t start singing professionally on stage until I was almost nine.
Now what did we do? We captured 20-40 seconds lens time that we would not have had with a simple two or three word answer. Think about how valuable that time is. That is 20-40 seconds more that the audience has to learn your face, voice and personality. All very important commodities.
The questions you are likely to be asked are generally easy to predict. And your mom or dad can help you rehearse and practice to stretch out your answers. They can also ask the booking agent to ask what questions you might be asked by the host, before the event. That way you have the opportunity to think how you will respond ahead of time. There are catch phrases you can use to give yourself time to think or to avoid questions that make you uncomfortable. Like, “Ooo, gonna start right off with the hard ones. Hmmm, let me see.” or “I’m really glad you asked me that question. I’ve been . . . “
But that will also be in my next work on Interviewing.
Just make them laugh and you have purchased lens time that is invaluable. And more importantly, they will move you up a notch on the call back list. More interviews, means more opportunities to sing or work your craft what ever it may be.
Relax and smile into the camera. Remember that smiles go a long way towards you getting lens time.